(The Hill) — Many types of soft contact lenses available in the U.S. could contain toxic “forever chemicals,” new research has found.
All 18 sets of soft contacts evaluated in a recent consumer study came back with various levels of organic fluorine — an indicator for the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The 18 sets, from three major brands, were sent to a laboratory certified by the Environmental Protection Agency by the Mamavation eco-wellness website, to determine just how much of this PFAS building block was present in each product.
“Your eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of your body,” Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health and the National Toxicology Program, said in a statement.
“Therefore, it’s concerning to see the presence of organic fluorine, which is likely a type of PFAS, found in all soft contact lens products tested,” Birnbaum added.
There are thousands of types of PFAS, many of which are common ingredients in household products such as nonstick pans, cosmetics and outdoor apparel.
While these compounds have been used for decades due to their water- and stain-resistant properties, PFAS are also linked to a variety of illnesses, such as kidney cancer, thyroid disease and testicular cancer.
The levels of organic fluorine uncovered by the lab ranged from 105 to 20,700 parts per million, according to the report, released by Mamavation with Environmental Health News — a site published by the nonprofit Environmental Health Sciences.
About 22 percent had more than 18,000 parts per million of this element, while 44 percent of the lenses had more than 4,000 parts per million of organic fluorine, per the report.
“The presumption that these organic fluorine levels measured in contact lenses are safe is laughable,” Pete Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, said in a statement.
Myers pointed out that the EPA last summer issued new drinking water health advisories for four types of PFAS, which ranged from 0.004 parts per trillion to 2,000 parts per trillion.
Acknowledging that “comparing drinking levels in water to concentrations in contact lenses is like comparing apples to oranges,” Myers noted that fluorine content in all of the lenses exceeded 100 parts per million.
Such concentrations, he continued, are “50,000 times higher than the highest level deemed safe in drinking water by the EPA.”
Research has yet to offer definitive proof as to whether PFAS exposure is linked to eye diseases and whether these persistent compounds can break down in the eye.
Nonetheless, the report stressed that because “the eye is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body,” there is reason to be concerned about contact lenses as a route for exposure.
Meanwhile, a 2020 study conducted in China showed that adults with higher blood levels of PFAS might have a higher incidence of certain types of ocular conditions.
“We know enough about PFAS chemicals to guess and fear that fluoropolymers in human cells or in the environment are anything but a pretty safety picture,” Terrence Collins, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Green Sciences, said in a statement.
“I advise that such contact lenses be rigorously avoided,” Collins added.